Overall Rank: #144
Conference Rank: #10 Southeastern Conference
2009-10: 15-16, 6-10
2009-10 postseason: none
Coach: Darrin Horn (36-26 at South Carolina, 147-74 overall)
Considering three-year starter Dominique Archie went down with an injury after playing in just five games and fellow starter Mike Holmes played in only six contests, South Carolina and Coach Darrin Horn did an admirable job during the 2009-2010 campaign. The absence of Archie and Holmes forced a lot of young players into action and that will start paying off immediately.
Key Losses: F Dominique Archie, G Devan Downey, F Mike Holmes, G Brandis Raley-Ross
The youth movement is in full swing with a superb recruiting class led by point guard Bruce Ellington and power forward Damontre Harris. Ellington, a 5-10 speedster, could step into the starting role right away and, at the least, will be asked to provide some depth in the backcourt. Fellow incoming freshmen Brian Richardson and Eric Smith could battle for minutes as well. Another key addition to the Gamecocks is Malik Cooke, a transfer from Nevada. The 6-6 forward will immediately bring experience and athleticism to the wing. The newcomers in the frontcourt are equally impressive. Harris will be a star sooner or later and R.J. Slawson was a nice late pickup. Add the size of 6-10 Carlton Geathers to the mix and the future looks very bright.
The problem is there is not a lot of experience returning in the backcourt. Losing Devan Downey is huge and nobody will fill his 22.5 points per game. If Ellington is not ready to take over the point guard duties, the only other option is Ramon Galloway. The 6-1 sophomore started a half dozen games last season, but he was mostly used as a shooter off the bench. If Ellington is not ready to run the show, Galloway will have to grow up quickly and try and step into that role. Ideally, Ellington will start at the point guard spot sooner rather than later and Galloway can stretch out the defense and provide South Carolina with an outside shooting threat. Stephen Spinella is the only other perimeter player with any experience and he averaged less than ten minutes per game last year and will have to fight for playing time with the newcomers.
Harris has the athleticism to start as a freshman, but South Carolina probably will not need him to do so unless they want to put a bigger lineup on the floor, which may often be the case against most Southeastern Conference opponents. The big man on the team is Sam Muldrow. The 6-9 senior has always been a tenacious rebounder and shot blocker, but has also turned into a solid interior scoring threat. With the new found athleticism around him, Muldrow should be in for a big year. Lakeem Jackson started nearly every game last year and should once again this time around. Although he was just a freshman, Jackson was the glue guy who did the dirty work on the glass.
Who to Watch:
Ellington is going to have to take over this team if South Carolina expects to reach the postseason. It is asking a lot for a freshman to not only run the team, but try to replace such a great player like Downey. If Coach Horn had to choose somebody, Ellington would be high on his list anyway. He has enough speed and quickness to make things happen and suddenly the Gamecocks can get up and down the floor. Not only do they have the point guard to do it, but they have the athleticism and the depth to run as well.
Turnovers will likely be a problem if Coach Horn wants to take advantage of his new found athleticism and depth. That is what happens when you have a young backcourt and a frontcourt that is mostly full of athletes. South Carolina should be a better team than they were last year but it remains to be seen how big of a stride they can make with a squad mostly full of underclassmen. The present should be better, but the future is what has South Carolina fans excited.
Projected Post-season Tournament: none
Projected Starting Five:
Bruce Ellington, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Ramon Galloway, Sophomore, Guard, 7.8 ppg
Lakeem Jackson, Sophomore, Forward, 7.2 ppg
Malik Cooke, Junior, Forward, DNP last season
Sam Muldrow, Senior, Forward, 10.4 ppg